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Discover Scotland Part 3 - Northeast Highlands, Shetland & Orkney – Itinerary

This trip starts in Inverness and ends in Edinburgh. Guidance on in-country transportation options will be provided to registered participants.

Below is our planned itinerary. Please, keep in mind that it could change due to weather conditions as weather can impact on our ferry crossings and flight, or other circumstances beyond our control.


B - Breakfast, D - Dinner.

Map by Eric Gaba (Sting – frSting), CC BY-SA 4.0

Day 1 | Monday 29 May, 2023: Arrival day – Inverness

Check-in from 3pm at our hotel in the center of Inverness, a short walk from the train station. Founded by King David in the 12th century, primary city and shopping centre of the highlands, Inverness sits in a great location astride the River Ness, at the northern end of the Great Glen. Meeting and welcome drinks at 6 pm in the hotel reception. Overnight: Inverness. D.

Day 2 | Tuesday 30 May: Culloden, Fort George 5 miles

In the morning, we take a 30 minute ride on the local bus to Culloden battlefield. We head to the visitor center for audio and visual presentations of the battle which saw the defeat in 1746 of the forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the end of the Jacobite dream. We explore this sombre moor, where in just over an hour, 1,200 highlanders were slaughtered by the Hanoverian army led by the Duke of Cumberland earning him the infamous nickname “The Butcher”. The battle marked the end of the Clan system and the Clearances soon followed, forever changing the Highland way of life. From Culloden, we walk to the Clava Cairns, one of the oldest historic sites in Britain. The burial cairn and several standing stones are estimated to be 4,000 years old. In the afternoon, we head to Fort George, the magnificent 18th century artillery fortifications on the headland guarding the narrows in the Moray Firth. We walk around the ramparts, with fine views out to sea, hoping to spot a pod of bottlenose dolphins that oftentimes frequent the Firth. A taxi ride takes us back to Inverness in the afternoon before we transfer by train to Aviemore (45 minutes), gateway to the Cairngorms National Park, for dinner. Overnight: Aviemore. B, D.

Day 3 | Wednesday 31 May: Aviemore Cairngorms, Loch Morlich 7 miles, 700 ft of ascent, 1,650 ft of descent

A short taxi drive takes us to the base of the formidable Cairngorms. The National Park encompasses the highest landmass in Britain, a broad mountain plateau, cut only by the deep valleys of the Lairig Ghru and Glen Avon, and including 5 of the 6 highest summits in the UK. With a subarctic climate, it is a wild mountain landscape of granite, rare northern tundra with dwarf-shrub heath, arctic alpine plants like purple and starry saxifrages and high-altitude bird species such as snow bunting, ptarmigan and dotterel. We board the Cairngorm funicular railway to ascend effortlessly to the viewing platform near the top of the mountain to experience the conditions on this amazing landscape. We then get back to the base of the funicular and settle for our picnic lunch before setting off on our walk. First, we descend the heather carpeted mountainsides, enjoying great views of the valley ahead. After a short ascent, we contour across several streams before descending towards Rothiemurchus Forest, Scotland’s largest remnant of Caledonian pine forest, the ancient forest of Scots pine that once covered most of the country. After passing by the enchanting Loch Morlich and its inviting sandy beach, we finish at the Reindeer center for a tour to see and feed Britain’s only herd of reindeer. Afterwards, it’s a short taxi ride back to Aviemore for dinner at our hotel. Overnight: Aviemore. B, D.

Day 4 | Thursday 1 June: The Strathspey Heritage Steam Railway 8 miles, +500 ft

Aviemore is home to the Strathspey Heritage Steam Railway, which runs steam trains on a section of restored line between Aviemore and Bromhill. In the morning, we take the train all the way to its terminus (50 minutes). From Bromhill, today’s delightful easy walk takes us to the attractive village of Nethy Bridge, we briefly join the Speyside Way, then a minor road through the forest. We stop to visit the Osprey Centre. These rare and beautiful birds of prey migrate each Spring from West Africa to nest here, in the tall trees of this marvelous stretch of native pine forest. These woods of old Scot pines and juniper are home to otherwise rare species of wood ants, red squirrels, pine marten, capercaillie and crossbills. Afterwards we continue through the forest, before emerging by the side of the scenic River Spey, the anglers’ paradise. We follow the river to the small village of Boat of Garten and get back on the steam train to Aviemore. In the afternoon, we board a private minibus for a 2 ¼ hour scenic drive through a region of rich farmland and picturesque valleys to Aberdeen, known as the granite city. Fueled by the riches of North Sea oil, Aberdeen is the powerhouse of the northeast. Overnight: Aberdeen. B, D.

Day 5 | Friday 2 June: Dunnottar Castle – Aberdeen 6 miles, +800 ft

From Aberdeen, we take the morning train to Stonehaven. From this fashionable seaside resort, a scenic circular walk along the cliff tops leads to the spectacular ruins of Dunnottar Castle, perched on a rocky outcrop rising 160 ft above the sea. Surrounded on three sides by the North Sea, this once impregnable fortress first built in the 9th century to oppose invading Viking forces, played a crucial role for over 1,000 years in Scottish history. We explore the castle and the grounds before returning to Stonehaven. Later, in the afternoon, we visit Aberdeen and enjoy an early dinner in the city before heading to the port to catch the evening ferry for the Shetlands. We sail overnight in our comfortable cabins and arrive in the early morning (07.30am) at Lerwick. Overnight: Ferry, B, D.

Day 6 | Saturday 3 June: Shetland: Esha Ness Peninsula 7.5 miles, +1,000 ft

After a hearty breakfast in Lerwick, we catch a taxi for a spectacular 1 hour ride north to the beautiful Esha Ness Peninsula. We circumnavigate the peninsula, starting near the lighthouse on top of a 200 ft high headland. Here, the basalt cliffs, beaches and stunning views out onto the North Atlantic have to be seen to be believed. With numerous caves and natural arches, this is the most impressive coastal scenery in Shetland. We walk past the remains of an Iron Age Broch, described by archaeologists as a drystone, hollow, defensive military structure, probably in use for over 1,000 years. There are also numerous wildlife watching opportunities as we wander past colonies of seabirds numbering in their thousands during the breeding season. We may also be lucky enough to spot seals as both Common and Grey seals are often seen bobbing up and down in the coastal waters. We leave the rugged coastline and return inland on a minor road past peaty brown hills, grassy pastureland and numerous lochs. We end up at Tangwick Haa museum, where the display of local artefacts and photographs is our opportunity to learn a little more about all aspects of life in this remote part of Shetland. Afterwards, we head back to Lerwick by Taxi (1hr ride). Overnight: Lerwick B, D.

Day 7 | Sunday 4 June: Shetland: Sumburgh Head, Bressay & Noss, 3 miles, +200 ft

With its clear waters, sea cliffs and grassy headlands jutting out into sparkling blue waters, Sumburgh is one of the most scenic places on the island. From Lerwick, the local bus takes us to Sumburgh (55 minute ride). We ascend to Sumburgh Head Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve, with a good chance to get up close and personal with puffins and also see huge nesting colonies of fulmars, guillemots and razorbills. If lucky, we might even spot dolphins and orcas. This elevated viewpoint, the most southerly point on mainland Shetland, affords extensive views over Fair Isle to the south. From here we descend to the inspirational archaeological site of Jarlshof, which covers a period of continuous habitation from 2,500 BC through to the 1,600s. The site emerged from beneath a huge sand dune during a storm in 1905. We return to Lerwick on the bus in time to embark on a superb three-hour Seabirds and Seals cruise around the islands of Bressay and Noss, just opposite Lerwick. Noss is host to huge seabird colonies on the island’s 600 ft high cliffs. After dinner, the more adventurous will head to the local pubs in search of local bands performing traditional Shetland fiddle and accordion. Overnight: Lerwick, B, D.

Day 8 | Monday 5 June: Shetland: Mousa, Lerwick 6 miles, +300 ft

This morning, the local bus takes us to the village of Sandwick situated exactly on the 60 degrees North latitude line. Weather permitting, next is a 20 minute boat ride to the isle of Mousa, home of the best-preserved Iron Age tower in existence. We will spend 2 hours on the island, enough to explore the picturesque Broch with its double-walled spiral staircase and walk around South Island before returning to Lerwick. Up here, at Britain’s northernmost end, it can sometimes feel more Scandinavian than Scottish. It was a short jaunt across the North Sea from Norway for the formidable Vikings and they controlled this windswept, treeless archipelago until 1469, when it was gifted to Scotland as the dowry of a Danish princess. Lerwick however has a true Scottish feel. Built on the herring trade in the 17th century, on the island known as Mainland, it is the only real town in Shetland. In the afternoon, we explore Lerwick, starting from the pier, along the Bressay Sound to a rocky promontory known as the Knab. We continue past a golf course and along the bay to 2,000 years old Clickimin Broch, built on an island on a loch. We return via Fort Charlotte, a five-sided artillery fort, built during the first Anglo-Dutch war (1652), before finishing at the museum, displaying a fascinating recollection of 5,000 years’ worth of Shetland’s heritage and culture in one place. We have an early dinner in Lerwick before boarding the 7 pm ferry to Orkney. We arrive in Kirkwall at 11 pm and transfer by taxi to our hotel. Overnight: Orkney B, D.

Day 9 | Tuesday 6 June: Orkney: Skara Brae, Brough of Birsay 9 miles, +1,000 ft

Orkney is the name given to a group of 70 islands separated from mainland Scotland by the raging waters of the Pentand Firth. The largest island is confusingly named Mainland. We stay in a charming hotel overlooking the Loch of Stenness in the heart of neolithic Mainland. The west and north areas are sprinkled with outstanding prehistoric monuments. This morning, we depart on a local bus for Skara Brae. A UNESCO site of special heritage, this impressive ancient settlement, the best-preserved prehistoric village in Northern Europe, is idyllically situated by a sandy bay. Even the stone furniture has survived 5,000 years since a community lived and breathed here. After our picnic lunch in this most inspiring place, our first walk on Mainland heads north along the coastline. We follow the cliff-top path with superb wildlife watching opportunities. From Marwick Bay, a short ascent takes us to Kitchener Memorial and Marwick Head RSPB reserve. Watch out for the “Bonxie”, the local name for the great skua adept at diving at unsuspecting pedestrians. With luck, we might spot a pair of sea eagles. We continue to Birsay, a small village dominated by the ruins of the Earl’s Palace, built in the 16th century by the despotic Earl of Orkney. If tide times allow, we can walk out to the tidal island, the Brough of Birsay, a lovely peaceful place with many remains of Pictish & Norse settlements. A 30 minute taxi ride takes us back to our hotel, for an excellent dinner of local seafood and produce. Overnight: Orkney. B, D.

Day 10 | Wednesday 7 June: Orkney: Ring of Brodgar, Stromness 9 miles, +800 ft

This morning we explore the prehistoric jewels of the islands. From our hotel doorstep, we walk to Maes Howe, a Neolithic chambered cairn, where a grass mound hides a 5,000 years old tomb, built from enormous sandstone blocks. In the 12th century, the tomb was broken into by treasure-hunting Vikings, who then carved runic graffiti on the walls. From Maes Howe we walk back towards the Standing Stones of Stenness: 4 mighty stones remain of what was a circle of 12. Imposing by their sheer size, the tallest measures 17 ft in height. A mile north stands another historical gem: the Ring of Brodgar. This mystical ring is the largest stone circle in Scotland. More than 328 feet in diameter, it had 60 stones originally, set in a perfect circle. It dates from 3,000 BC, making it contemporary with the great pyramids. Afterwards, a short taxi ride takes us to Yesnaby, renowned for its spectacular Old Red Sandstone coastal cliff scenery including sea stacks, blowholes, geos and frequently boiling seas, for another superb coastal walk. We follow the spectacular sea cliffs all the way to Stromness, a little port with great character, where the flagstone paved main street curves along the waterfront. Make sure you’ve got plenty of charge on your phone or camera as you will not be short of spectacular shots today. After exploring Stromness, we hop on the bus back to the hotel for dinner. Overnight: Orkney. B, D.

Day 11 | Thursday 8 June: Orkney: Kirkwall 2 miles

On our last day in Orkney, we visit the Orcadian capital. Kirkwall is the commercial center of the island and there is a busy feel to its main shopping street and ferry docks. It’s set back from a wide bay, and the paved streets and twisting wynds (lanes) create a distinctive atmosphere. We take the local bus from our hotel to Kirkwall and embark on a historical town trail to discover the stories and histories of the town founded in the early 11th century. The original part of Kirkwall is one of the best examples of an ancient Norse town. We start at the port and head to the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral. Built out of local red sandstone and yellow Eday stone, it is the result of 300 years of construction (work started in 1136) and alterations. Opposite the Cathedral is Kirkwall museum, which gives a good overview of Orkney prehistory and history. Today, you can take time out to explore the craft and coffee shops of the town and maybe have lunch in a fancy restaurant of your choice. In the afternoon, we head to the Earl’s Palace, a fine example of French Renaissance architecture in Scotland and the Bishop’s Palace. Then we take a tour of Highland Park whisky distillery, before heading to the airport to catch the evening flight to Edinburgh. We arrive in Edinburgh at 8.30 pm and transfer to our elegant hotel in the heart of the city for supper. Overnight: Edinburgh. B, D.

Day 12 | Friday 9 June: Stirling Castle, Falkirk wheel 6 miles, +300 ft

This morning, we walk to the station and board the train to Stirling (45 minute ride). Stirling has always been a crucial strategic point dividing the Lowlands from the Highlands and for this reason two important independence battles were fought nearby and remain a source of much national pride. “Hold Stirling and you control Scotland!” A fortress of some kind has existed here since prehistoric times. With an utterly impregnable position atop an extinct volcano, the castle is worth exploring. To get there, we take the Back Walk which follows the line of the wall built around 1547 that encircles the Old Town. We visit the castle and afterwards explore the beautifully preserved winding cobbled streets and noble buildings of the Old Town. In the afternoon, we get back on the train and alight at Falkirk a short 15 minutes later. From the station, a brief taxi ride brings us to the Kelpies, two beautiful modern statues of horses. A short easy walk along the canal leads us to a marvel of modern engineering: the Falkirk Wheel on the Union and Forth & Clyde canals. Its rotating arms literally scoop boats up and lift them to the waterway 115 ft higher. We then head to the station again to catch the train back to Edinburgh (30 minutes) for an evening of celebration of a formidable voyage through ancient and modern Scotland, Shetland and Orkney. Overnight: Edinburgh. B, D.

Day 13 | Saturday 10 June: Edinburgh

Departure after breakfast. Check out at 10.00 am.

4 trip bulletins will be provided prior to departure with more detailed and specific information to help you prepare for your adventure. If you’d like advice on your in-country travel arrangements, please do ask, we are happy to help.

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Trip Dates: May 29 - June 10, 2023 | 13 day trip

Group size - 14 participants

Trip Price and Deposit: $5,525 per person | Deposit $1,381 | Single supplement $1,200

Remainder due February 28, 2023

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